Penn State Bars Outing Club From....Outings

12:55 p.m. on July 16, 2018 (EDT)
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The university has a campus recreation outdoor adventures program, which has trained student employees - so students will still have the opportunity to embark on student-led trips. i wonder what about their outing club led to the conclusion that it posed an unacceptable level of risk, considering that Penn State appears to have tolerated that "unacceptable level of risk" for the 98 years that its outing club has led student trips. According to an article on the Backpacker.com site, the outdoor adventures program sets tents up for the student participants! (One might reasonably expect Penn State to up its compliance game given its history of tolerating a child sex predator in its football program and the alcohol-fueled death of a member of its greek community, but....)

Note that the influence of alcohol on outing club trips was cited as a factor. From my own college outing club experience, which included multiple hikes in New Hampshire's White Mountains in the winter, it wasn't about the booze for us.  

https://news.psu.edu/story/518756/2018/04/26/campus-life/following-review-students-continue-have-access-outdoor

8:11 p.m. on July 16, 2018 (EDT)
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Unbelievable, but a sign of the times.  Our society is in much worse shape than we think.

10:09 a.m. on July 17, 2018 (EDT)
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I emailed Penn State about this and received the following response. It's interesting. I suspect the overall review of student clubs arose from Penn State's recognition that its compliance function has been deficient. Whether I agree or not, it is worthwhile to review.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Mr. Friedman:

Unfortunately, I believe you have only received part of the background and facts on this topic – so I am glad that you have written for some clarification. Although you are not a member of the media, I’m happy to provide.

First, here is a link to the most recent information about this issue, which dates back to April, and here is a link to a set of FAQs about the risk assessment.

The vice president in charge of this area of student life has met recently with both alumni and students on this topic in an effort to gain more insight into the needs expressed. Throughout this process and ongoing, Penn State remains committed to the safety and wellbeing of our students. We are aware of the intangible benefits of getting outdoors, and we want students to enjoy the outdoors and remain safe while doing so. Campus Recreation at Penn State remains focused on providing as many opportunities in the outdoors as possible, while also keeping safety as a priority.

As background, all clubs housed in Campus Recreation were reviewed - this includes 79 student organizations. All clubs were reviewed consistently, using the same tools and process. Clubs were evaluated on criteria that would allow Campus Recreation to move to a contemporary model of club sport delivery and management – and one of the criteria measured was risk. As a general practice, the University regularly evaluates its student activities (including Intercollegiate Athletics) and overall operations in many areas for risk, with the goal of increasing safety and appropriately managing risk.

In addition to the inherent risks found in many of these student organizations’ activities that occured without fully trained guides or leaders, the behaviors of some students on unsupervised trips became a concern. These worries have, at times, included the misuse of alcohol in the context of already risky activities. This mix is obviously dangerous. Campus Recreation learned of alcohol use by members of the Penn State Outing Club (PSOC) in 2016 from students within the group itself. These students expressed concern about this behavior as part of their organized trips. This may not be the current group of student leaders, since leadership turnover occurs regularly. But the risk was self-reported to administrators.

Along with the report of alcohol on the Outing Club’s trips, concerns raised by the administration about the Outing Club also included: the fact that Penn State did not have the expansive resources needed to review the Outing Club's numerous trips and its lack of trained student leaders. While there were some trained leaders in the Outing Club, there was no process in place to verify or assess leader qualifications. Also, trips were far away from cell phone service and medical centers, which is an issue without properly trained staff. In addition, there was no consideration, nor practice, of collecting health history for the participants on the PSOC trips. 

The University worked with the Penn State Outing Club (PSOC) in March 2017 to institute changes including: trips now approved/supervised by the staff from Campus Recreation (the Outdoor Adventures program)  -- who receive robust year-long training in safety, risk management, and leadership to enable them to lead outdoor activities with safety and student welfare in mind. While many Outing Club members have advanced training, this is the level of training we believe is required to manage risk appropriately and increase safety.

PSOC also needed to have a detailed itinerary for each trip; and a detailed emergency action plan for each trip. Formalized training and curriculum, although discussed by the PSOC, was never completed and resources within Campus Recreation for 79 organizations must be distributed evenly and could not be focused solely on the PSOC.

Students are still be able to engage in all of the previously offered outdoor activities now through a structured University-sponsored program (Campus Recreation’s Outdoor Adventures program, within Student Affairs).

I hope this answers your questions.

Thanks for writing

Lisa

March 21, 2019
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